According to an article published in Samma and the Business-Standard, Experts are questioning the theory that a soybean container at the Karachi port is behind the toxic gas leak that has killed 14 people and leftover 500 sick, including doctors.
Summary of the incident
14 people have died and scores others have complained of breathing difficulties from what has been dubbed the leakage of toxic gas whose nature and the source remain unclear. Authorities were alerted to the incident when people in the Keamari area began rushing to nearby hospitals with severe breathing problems.
The University of Karachi’s International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences said that a soybean container at Keamari Port was the likely cause.
“The symptoms due to exposure to soybean dust (aeroallergens) may be considered as the possible cause,” a letter sent to the Karachi Commissioner said.
Deaths attributed to Alkalosis
However, experts have been skeptical. “The findings are not very consistent with this soybean story,” a doctor at Ziauddin Hospital Keamari who has been treating patients brought in with alarming symptoms.
She further added, “I read about the one that happened in Barcelona as well but the quick progression to neurological deficit and death is not something that’s been explanatory.”
She added that one of the staff members admitted to the ICU was brought in with a seizure and severe alkalosis. Alkalosis happens when the pH in the blood is above the normal range of 7.35 to 7.45. It can happen due to a drop in carbon dioxide or an increase in plasma bicarbonate. If not treated rapidly, it can be fatal.
Doctors treating patients affected as well
“While performing their duty, almost 20 staff members of Ziauddin Hospital Keamari had been affected by the poisonous gas. A few have been shifted towards and most of them are in critical condition, kept under observation in the ICU,” said an official statement from the hospital.
Is soybean the reason?
Another expert believes that there hasn’t been a leak of toxic gases and neither is soybean the culprit.
“If there was a gas leak on the ship or port the workers would have been affected. But only the residents of Keamari were affected,” said the man who is a retired chief engineer in the merchant navy.
He thinks there has been faulty disposal of chemical-laden water after unloading cargo from ships. This chemical-laden water flowed into the area’s sewerage system.
Tankers discharging chemical-laden water?
The ports receive tankers that offload cargo that includes oil and other and chemicals. These tankers are washed before and after unloading. An oily water separator is used to separate the oily residue from the water. The residue collects in the sludge tank. The sludge is collected and disposed off by shore facilities and the water is then drained.
“I don’t know if they drained the water properly or let it flow directly into sewerage lines. Now sewerage lines already have some gases. If it mixes with that, it becomes more toxic,” he said.
These cleaning activities happen round the clock and the authorities are supposed to keep a log of them. Ships need to undock from the port as soon as possible because for every hour they are docked, it costs thousands of dollars, explained the navy engineer.
When the same tanks are cleaned on ships very strict protocols are followed. After cleaning a tank an oxygen analyzer is used to test the air. If oxygen levels in the tank aren’t at 21.1% we don’t go inside, he said.
Vessel to shifted
Authorities plan to shift the vessel from Karachi Port to Port Qasim, Karachi Port Trust (KPT).
In a statement, the KPT spokesperson said that the authorities had decided to move the ship during the morning but decided against it due to the low tide.
In a letter sent to Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani on Tuesday, International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) Director Dr. Muhammad Iqbal Choudhary had said that the lab has examined blood and urine samples of people “exposed to toxic aerosols“ as well as soybean dust samples.
The lab advised that extreme care be taken in the unloading of soybean containers and that people admitted in the hospital be given bronchodilators and anti-histamines.
An initial investigation into the incident by Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) on Monday showed that toxic gas had leaked from the terminal storing crude oil and petroleum products located within the residential areas.
A mishap or casualty can prove to be very costly as the ship authorities would have to pay 72 months’ salary to the victim’s family.
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